Norah Jones Reenlists Tarriona "Tank" Ball and James Carter Nails a Gypsy Vibe, in Take Five

Aug 5, 2019

Along with the latest from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Buika, and Bushman’s Revenge.

Norah Jones (Featuring Tarriona Tank Ball), “Take It Away”

One of the most jubilant sets I caught at this year’s Newport Jazz Festival was by Tank and the Bangas, the freewheeling New Orleans band fronted by Tarriona “Tank” Ball. Probably best known for winning the NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert, the group has an outrageously fun new album, Green Balloon.

Before they went on, I flashed back to a Newport moment from 2016 — when Norah Jones headlined the festival, and I interviewed her backstage for a Fall Preview feature in The New York Times. At one point her two backup singers popped into the trailer, and Norah made an introduction: “This is Tank and Jelly, from Tank and the Bangas.” (As an aside, she added: “Have you seen them? They’re amazing.”)

As it happens, there’s a new Norah Jones single featuring Tarriona “Tank” Ball: a low-simmering but sharply drawn reflection called “Take It Away.”

The song is an exhortation for a troubled time, as Norah plainly establishes in her opening verse:

History becomes what we make it

Something doesn’t fit the bill, we fake it

If you really want something you take it

Kindness becomes something we’ve shaken

This is in keeping with the sociopolitical thrust of Jones’ recent repertoire, which has also brought us songs like “Flipside.” During a weekend full of dispiriting news, it resonated all the more. As I watched Tank and the Bangas throwing down on the same stage where Tank appeared with Norah a few years ago, I kept thinking of a line that she sings in the bridge: “Find a way to make it better.”

James Carter Organ Trio, “Melodie Au Crepuscule”

Speaking of recent revelations from the Newport Jazz Festival: saxophonist James Carter has a new album coming in a few weeks, recorded at last year’s fête. James Carter Organ Trio: Live From Newport Jazz was just announced by Blue Note Records, which also shared the first single from the album — a soul-infused take on the gypsy-swing standard “Melodie Au Crepuscule.”

Carter’s organ trio, with Gerard Gibbs on Hammond B-3 and Alexander White on drums, comes straight out of the soul-jazz tradition. This is not typically the style associated with the music of Django Reinhardt. But in the hands of Carter and his colleagues, it makes sturdy sense. Check out Gibbs’ bass line, which nods toward Bill Withers, and his solo, which unfolds as a series of controlled detonations. It all underscores something Carter jokingly says in a press statement — that he wanted to “give Gypsy jazz a hood pass... or urbanize it, if you will.” 

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, “Blue Twirl”

Jazz and Art is a vibrant new release by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, drawing on a series of pieces commissioned from within the ranks of the band. The album, on Blue Engine Records, documents a longstanding tradition of engagement with visual art, with compositions directly inspired by the likes of Piet Mondrian, Stuart Davis and Romare Bearden. This track, written and arranged by trombonist Vincent Gardner, is dedicated to Sam Gilliam, a trailblazing abstractionist who is finally beginning to receive his due.

The name of the composition is “Blue Twirl,” after a 1971 Gilliam canvas in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (Alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, a member of the JALC orchestra, recorded his version of this tune on a 2017 album, Cerulean Canvas.) The details in Gardner’s robust arrangement are plentiful: shifts in tempo and texture, surges in dynamic attack. And you’ll want to pay attention to each soloist as he makes his case: first Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, then Ted Nash on alto saxophone, and finally Elliot Mason on trombone.

Bushman’s Revenge, “Happy Hour For Mr. Sanders”

Bushman’s Revenge is a Norwegian power trio with a sly relationship to groove, and on its smart new album — Et hån mot overklassen, which translates in English to “A Mockery of the Upper Class” — there’s a lot to read between the lines. The band consists of Even Helte Hermansen on guitars, Rune Nergaard on electric bass and Gard Nilssen on drums, each one a force. Together they strike an appealing balance of spacey atmosphere and bluesy grit.


This track, “Happy Hour For Mr. Sanders,” illustrates how much this trio can accomplish with a single two-bar riff. As bass and drums maintain a heavy churn, Hermansen fashions a fusioneering guitar solo that might remind American listeners of a cross between John Scofield and John McLaughlin. Listen, too, for the tonal shift that occurs about two minutes in: a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it adjustment that registers almost on a metabolic level.

Buika, “Vete que te quiero”

We began this installment of Take Five with a note from Newport, and we’ll end there too. One predictable source of transcendence at this year’s festival was the Afro-Flamenco singer Buika, who took the stage with a new, all-female band. Buika has been busy this year — if you haven’t heard her on the new Santana album, you should — but somehow I had missed a new single she released in the spring.

Here is a video for the song, “Vete que te quiero” — a song of torturous longing, though in the narrative that unfolds here, there’s comfort in the resolution.